The head of the UN’s refugee agency urged the government of Myanmar to find solutions to the complex issues in western Rakhine state where the minority Rohingya Muslim population has faced persecution for decades.
“These are complex issues but they are not intractable,” Filippo Grandi in a statement late Thursday after his first visit to Rakhine state that is home to 1.2 million stateless Rohingya.
Grandi visited the Maungdaw area where security forces are allegedly committing new rights violations against Rohingya Muslims following the killing of nine police officers there by a gang last October.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Myanmar), more than 70,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Maungdaw area since the military began a clearance operation last October following the deaths of nine police officers in attacks on border posts.
During the operation, the UN and rights groups have documented widespread abuses by security forces such as killings -- including of children and babies -- gang rapes, brutal beatings, the burning of villages and disappearances.
The government has said at least 106 people were killed during the operation but Rohingya groups have said approximately 400 Rohingya were killed.
Despite having lived in the area for generations, Rohingya have been effectively denied citizenship by a nationality law enacted in 1982 and restricted basic rights such as freedom of movement.
“A crucial first step is to pursue freedom of movement and access to services and livelihoods for all,” he said.
Grandi also met Thursday with Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital Nay Pyi Taw, and pushed for the recommendations of the Advisory Commission of Rakhine State to provide an important roadmap for the way forward.
The commission’s recommendations include unimpeded access to affected areas on Rakhine state for journalist and humanitarian aid workers and an independent investigation in the killing of the officers.
Last week, Myanmar announced three refugee camps had been closed as a first step for relocation and resettlement mostly Rohingya Muslims displaced by violence in the past year.
The closures were interim recommendations by the Kofi Annan-led advisory commission.
The state has been plagued by violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya since mid-2012, and reached a boiling point after the military launched a crackdown following the officers’ deaths.